Twenty Japanese students watch, smiles on each one of their faces, as Orlando students steer their robots. Cell phones glow, their cameras recording the 120-pound cube-shaped bot flinging an exercise ball across the room. They all laugh when a Japanese student takes a turn behind the driver’s seat at the computer and the rogue robot zips past, narrowly missing another student’s toes.
In just a few hours, students who felt worlds away from each other found common ground.
“The love of science is international,” said Orlando Science Charter School junior Carlos Barea.
So is the experience of being a teenager.
In between tours of classrooms and scientific presentations, Beth Martin and her new friend from Japan, Lisa, talk about boyfriends, Pandora jewelry and sing “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen.”
On Dec. 11, the robotics club at Orlando Science Charter School (OSS), a K-12 school focused on STEM education, welcomed 20 Japanese students from Meizen High School, one of just 100 special “super science schools,” to share science knowledge and how school works in each other’s countries.
“Our motto, goal at our high school is to make global leaders, so we can share the scientific knowledge,” said Misa Eto, the students’ English teacher.
Each school took a turn presenting something scientific; the Japanese students toured the robotics workshop, complete with a 3-D printer and milling machine for creating robot parts, spent time in classrooms where students presented about what an average class would be like and had time to socialize during lunch.
While the students had many similarities socially, it was easy to see from their presentations where their schooling cultures differed.
The Japanese students were serious, all taking a turn sharing their culture and Meizen High School history through a thoughtful PowerPoint, mostly from memory. Their research was presented in equal detail. The robotics team at Orlando Science Charter School was more laid back, sending their top members to the front to talk about the process of building their machines and to show off what their hard work had culminated in — some impressively fun-to-watch robots.
“Students here are happy, and in Japan they’re dreading everything because the grades are so serious, the competition is so heavy over there, that they really have to press down, it’s really serious, it’s not fun, it’s study, study, study, whereas here it’s more free at school, they make it enjoyable and all of the students are positive,” said Martin, a 16-year-old junior at OSS.
That’s true, Eto said. The students in Japan go to school from 7:45 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., including after-school activities. Some teachers frequently work until midnight. She hopes watching the American students can inspire her students to have more confidence and worry less about making mistakes. Presenting in English, something none of her students could do perfectly — and lost sleep over — was definitely a learning experience for them.
“From the students of this high school, they have a confidence of what they are doing,” Eto said. “On the other hand, the Japanese high school students…it’s quite difficult for them to have confidence in themselves.”
Hilmi Isikli, OSS college coordinator, said he hopes this experience can expand the horizons of his students. And it seems it has.
“You’re not in your little bubble, because the whole world is out there,” Martin said. “It’s not just Japan, it’s not just Russia, everybody has to work together or the world can’t function correctly, so I think by interacting with people from other cultures, other religions, anything different from yourself, it helps you grow as a person, so you know not everybody’s like you, everybody’s different. So it pops your bubble.”
“Communicating, connecting with other people and experiencing other cultures and other ideas is the biggest thing to take away,” Barea said. “Just having an idea of all these different ways of life that are just completely different from yours, but actually extremely common.”
Meizen High School has plans to send students to OSS every year, and they hope to develop an exchange program and share knowledge and create friendships by communicating online.
“With the Internet the world is a global town,” Isikli sad.